Buying used gear is an excellent way to acquire nice stuff for a fraction of the sticker price at a music store. Many musicians and producers do it, as gear choices tend to change frequently.
It might seem a little unsafe or scary to some, so here are a couple of pointers to help you get the best deal and find gear that suits your needs:
DO YOUR RESEARCH
First of all, you have to know what you're looking for to get the best deal on it. Do your homework and find out everything you need to know about the piece of gear you want to buy.
For example, know what to look for to spot a cheap knock-off – this will save you a lot of grief. Popular microphones are often getting cloned in China and sold for very cheap. A Shure SM57 is one of the most popular mics in this regard. Still, there are things that will give away the fake gear, so be sure to know as much as you can.
Find out what the weak points of the gear are, so that you can check those first when you meet up with the person selling it. Once again – the more you know, the better.
TAKE YOUR TIME
Once you know what you are looking for, start checking the websites and stores that place ads for used gear. Sometimes you will get very lucky and you'll find what you want in a matter of minutes, but sometimes you will just have to play the waiting game for a bit.
New listings will pop up all the time, so waiting is a good bet to save yourself some money. Give it a few days or even weeks if you can – chances are that something you like will show up, so you just have to keep your eyes open. Once the gear listing comes up, you can be one of the first to call the seller and get your deal, if you pay attention.
Pawn shops are also a way to get a killer deal, so be sure to take your time and check those out.
TRY BEFORE YOU BUY
When buying musical equipment, it's important to check if it works as advertised and if it can be used to make music.
Be respectful of the seller and inform him or her in a nice, polite way that you would like to check out if everything works fine and that you may need some time for that. If you're buying a microphone, make sure to have somewhere to plug it into. If it's a rack-mounted processing unit, arrange the meeting in a studio or a music store to be able to verify if it works. If it's a guitar, make sure you have a chance to check out if the electronics work and if the neck and truss rod are in good condition.
Don't feel bad for taking your time – it's your money and you have a right to spend it wisely. If the seller is reluctant to let you try the gear or is offering to meet up in a shady place, think about why that is, as there definitely are scammers out there as well. Be careful.
NEGOTIATE A DEAL
Once you've found the item you are looking for, consider a couple of things that will help you negotiate a good and fair deal for both parties.
How “hot” is the piece of gear – if you are buying something that's really popular and in demand, your leverage over the seller is relatively small, as he may easily sell the piece of gear to the next guy in line. If you're buying something relatively niche, you may have some advantages in negotiating a better price.
How long has the item been listed for – the longer the seller has been waiting to sell, generally the more open he or she will be to negotiating the price. The seller may not be keen on lowering the asking price on the first day of listing the item. Keep this in mind when checking out the online ads and use it to your advantage.
What condition is the item in – a spotless, mint piece of gear will generally sell for more. If the item you're buying has some signs of use, you may be able to leverage it and get a better price. The best thing about musical equipment is that if it's quality stuff, it can last forever and it can work fine even when it's beat up and doesn't look like much anymore.
The technical condition – if the item needs to be taken in for repairs or service, the price has to reflect that. Sometimes people will try to sell their defective gear for very cheap, not realizing that it can be fixed for next to nothing. If you're a technical person, this may be a great opportunity for you.
When negotiating a deal, be very, very respectful and reasonable. Don't low-ball the seller, just make a fair offer based on all the things mentioned above. There will be times when the seller will not accept your offer and you should respect that as well. You have better chances of negotiating a deal if you are a nice, open person.
KEEP THE RESALE VALUE
When buying gear, be mindful of the fact that you may want to sell it someday as well, so use it carefully and keep all the stuff that came with it, such as the box and accessories.
It may seem silly and obsessive, but you can get a much higher resale value by selling the gear in the original packaging that includes all the accessories and paperwork. It makes the item and you as a seller look more trustworthy.
Even if the warranty has expired, keep the paperwork – it may be useful to track down where the unit came from, when it has been bought and so on.
Even when buying gear, your social skills are very important. Sure, you need to have your technical knowledge down, but when you're trying to get the best deal in town, you have to earn it.
Use these tips when you're looking for a used piece of equipment and you'll save some money in no time!